Over the weekend, President Donald Trump cited powers he actually doesn't have as he suggested he had imposed 10-year prison sentences for vandalism of monuments. The president did not — and cannot — unilaterally change such laws.
Here's a sampling of his comments about stopping monument vandalism:
TRUMP: "Since imposing a very powerful 10 year prison sentence on those that Vandalize Monuments, Statues etc., with many people being arrested all over our Country, the Vandalism has completely stopped." — tweet Sunday.
TRUMP: "I’ve also made clear that any rioters damaging federal property and defacing our monuments will face severe and lengthy criminal penalties. Ten years." — remarks Tuesday in Phoenix.
THE FACTS: He has no such authority. A president is not a judge.
Trump signed an executive order Friday to protect monuments, memorials and statues, calling on the attorney general to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any person or group that destroys or vandalizes a monument, memorial or statue.
The order basically instructs the attorney general to enforce laws that already exist. Trump does not actually impose sentences.
TRUMP: "I have authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison per the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent. ... This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!" — tweets Tuesday.
THE FACTS: This action taken "immediately" and "retroactively" is merely words. It has no effect.
The Veterans’ Memorial Preservation Act, passed by Congress in 2003, already authorizes fines or prison for up to 10 years for the destruction of veterans’ memorials on public property.
The law covers "any structure, plaque, statue, or other monument on public property commemorating the service of any person or persons in the armed forces of the United States."
So all prosecutors got from Trump is a reminder of legal authority they already had.
TRUMP: "They even vandalized — that’s right — the Lincoln Memorial. The Lincoln Memorial." — remarks at Phoenix rally Wednesday, prompting boos from the audience.
THE FACTS: No one damaged the memorial housing the statue of Lincoln in protests that unfolded near it. An online photo seeming to show the Lincoln statue and a memorial wall blanketed by graffiti was fake.
The reality: Someone spray painted "y’all not tired yet?" by the bottom of the steps to the memorial May 30 and the National Park Service cleaned it up.
"The only vandalism at the Lincoln Memorial was graffiti at the bottom of the steps at street level, far away from the statue," said national parks spokesman Mike Litterst.
He said vandalism at the Lincoln Memorial is unusual but not unheard of. "Probably most notable was in 2013 when someone splashed green paint on the statue," he said in an email. "And it was vandalized twice in 2017, once in February with black magic marker and again in August with red spray paint on one of the columns."
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Matthew Perrone in Washington and Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed to this report.